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Bauer
 by Matt Dornan

With the career of Bettie Serveert stuck in limbo whilst a record deal was being negotiated, departed drummer Berend Dubbe kept busy with a project that would be in stark contrast to the guitar-based conventions of his former outfit. Under the guise of Bauer, Dubbe's return with On The Move (Excelsior) was little short of astonishing, a wonderfully inventive, melodic masterpiece. Largely keyboard-based but without a hint of post-rock sterility, On The Move is a layered, astute homage to music past and present. It's new follow up, Can't Stop Singing sees a further evolution of the Bauer sound, in part due to the introduction of Sonja van Hamel whose vocal, instrumental and artwork talents coincide with an enhanced, more expansive musical palette. I'd used a host of contemporary references in my review of CSS (CwaS#7) in stark contrast to an American review posted on the Bauer web-site (www.bauer-plaza.com) that, while equally positive, rooted the sound in the late sixties, early seventies. My suspicion now is that Bauer have embraced both the original and the influenced, keeping an eye on the contemporary AND the innovators...a fair assumption?
"Yeah totally, for us now is as important as then. Then is just a little bit more important. It's such a challenge to combine classic popwriting with modern electronics. A lot of the stuff that's around is just either one of those. Imagine Kim Hiorthoy or Pole would meet Curt Boettcher? That's where our work starts. Stereolab has been doing some of the best groundwork on that I think. When I listen to Drum & Bass I get the shivers, a lot of that is just bollocks, there are a lot of people around who buy a Roland Groove Box and think they're DJ Shadow."

For how long prior to your departure from Bettie Serveert were you stockpiling ideas and material for what became Bauer? Likewise the equipment you use...a radical departure from the drum-kit from an outsider's point of view but a long-term interest for you?
"Unconsciously I was fooling around with melodies and sound. It wasn't after the actual departure from Bettie that I started working on Bauer. Pianos and synths always had my love, though my biggest dream was buying a Fender Rhodes and a Mini Moog. I did that. With these inspiring instruments I was home free, ideas just endlessly came; everyday I was floating away more and more from Kansas, very inspiring. I'm still playing drums but only on the records, I can't remember the last time I actually sat down and put down some heavy jams drum-wise. I don't miss it."

You've recently returned from SXSW, was this your first post-BS trip to the US? And how was it for you?
"Yes it was, the last time with Bettie was a support tour with the Counting Crows in the Midwest two long years ago, a megatour in 'sheds,' really big 8000+ open-air venues - crazy but fun. This last trip with Bauer was kind of the opposite; a showcase in a place called the Red Eyed Fly in Austin and a show with Grant Hart in the Mercury Lounge in New York. It was good, stressful but rewarding. No one had ever heard of us, a lot of happy surprised faces in the crowd afterwards, a great review in the Austin Chronicle and a cool video on the SXSW site. We felt weird, for some reason the SXSW festival is still very much a guitar-based 4-piece band festival. For a lot of people we were a breath of fresh air. Through a Moog filter of course."

What does it mean to you to have your albums released in the US? Did this come about as a result of your recent travels or vice-versa?
"We signed to Wabana a couple of months ago - playing there was more or less [a] logical [step]. Having Can't Stop Singing released in the States is great. It tells us Bauer's music doesn't stop in Holland. It's good for the ol' ego too, it would be unbearable to leave a band like Bettie to start something new and be totally unsuccessful."

In the same way that Wabana have ignored geographical boundaries and feature artists from across the globe, Bauer ignores musical boundaries and trends, dipping into the history of modern music for its inspiration...true?
"Yip, that's what we're trying [to do]. I think Bauer is the result of 25 years of record shopping. When I was with the Bettie's I used to get my daily amount of weird records on tour (Moog synth records, then 50c now $50). Without the inspiration of these records Bauer would be much more self-evident, much more flat tinted. I have always bought records that show songs in music, I have always been lucky picking special vinyl out of the bin. Now, with Bauer, this huge encyclopaedia of sound is a source we pick from everyday. 15 years ago I bought a weird stack of former eastern block TV-stock vinyl, it's a source I still work with everyday. At the moment I'm making compilation CDs for Sonja to study, featuring songs I picked because of the production. I would like the next album to have a classic orchestral pop sound pastiche sound. In short: I am playing Scott Walker, The Millennium, The Divine Comedy, Neil Diamond, Free Design, 5th Dimension, 10 cc and Colin Blunstone records."

You used Johan's Wim Kwakman for live performances. Is there a sense of musical community in the Netherlands, such as the apparent scene in Norway, principally Bergen at present? If so is it similarly focused in certain cities?
"There are a lot of bands, a lots of styles, but not a real Amsterdam scene or sound though. The closest to such a scene would be the Excelsior label with bands like Johan, Caesar and Daryll Ann. There is - as anywhere - a lot of generic rock around."

You've been working on alternative film scores recently and your web-site is dotted with references to film. I presume you're a bit of a movie freak...can you run off your all-time Top Five movies?
Let's make it 10? 10) Breakfast At Tiffany's 9) Taxi Driver 8) Turkish Delight 7) The Godfather 1,2 6) The Conversation 5) Marathon Man 4) Belle Du Jour 3) The Wizard Of Oz 2) The French Connection 1) The Exorcist

What parallels can be drawn between film and music? Does the narrative and story-telling structure of your lyrics reflect your interest in film?
"In Bauer, just like in my favourite films, I try to involve storytelling, sub-plots and twist endings in the music, the kind of music that might require a second listen to fully appreciate what it's really about. Technicolor sonics if you wish, a multi-layered audio experience without screwing the song over. I recently started working on an alternative soundtrack for Coppola's The Conversation, it is so much fun, the stuff you learn along the way, what works and what doesn't is really exciting."

How did the doubling of full-time personnel affect your approach to the music? Presumably all creative decisions during On The Move were made by you alone. Was CSS more by committee? What are Sonja's greatest strengths and how does her involvement influence your own writing?
"After Bettie Serveert I was fed up with constantly having to justify musical proposals I was feeling very strongly about. Like you said, everything in a collective always has to go through a taste committee, that's why I locked myself in my room - 'solitarity' was the word. Now with Sonja I realised that musical hermitism has its boundaries, I'm actually opening up again to suggestions. Sonja has great taste in music and a great talent for seeing the whole picture, as I am sometimes lost in detail. Sonja works in a way that enriches the Bauer sound. I never felt any shackles while working with her."

You seem to be enjoying the live experience; do you imagine a time when you're once again in a studio with a four or five piece band?
"Not at the moment. Live we are a four-piece band, that's good for now. In the studio Sonja and me will be the masters of territory. Frank (our guitarist) has great musical vision too; we're probably going to involve him in the recording process also. My god, that's almost a band! So be it. If it feels good, we're going for it."

Bricks Without Stone, an outtake from Can't Stop Singing, can be heard on this issue's covermount CD.

CWAS #8 - Summer 2001

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